The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has approved a new hydrocodone extended-release painkiller from Purdue Pharma called Hysingla ER (ER is for Extended Release) made with “abuse-deterrent” technology that discourages chewing, crushing, snorting or injecting.
The new hydrocodone painkiller also contains no acetaminophen, which is found in almost all other hydrocodone painkillers such as Vicodin, Norco and Lortab and many others, as well as over-the-counter painkillers like Tylenol. Acetaminophen is the leading cause of liver damage in America, which can lead to acute liver failure and death.
Hydrocodone-and-acetaminophen painkillers like Vicodin are not only the most prescribed painkillers in the country, contributing to countless cases of liver toxicity, but they’re also among the most widely abused drugs in the country. The need for abuse-resistant hydrocodone tablets without acetaminophen has been evident for years.
Hysingla ER is intended as a once-a-day treatment for patients with “severe, round-the-clock pain that cannot be managed with other treatments.” According to Purdue’s announcement, Hysingla ER is the third drug they have made using the company’s RESISTEC™ “proprietary extended-release solid oral dosage formulation platform.” The company says it’s the “first and only hydrocodone product to be recognized by the FDA as having abuse-deterrent properties that are expected to deter misuse and abuse via chewing, snorting and injection. However, abuse of Hysingla ER by the intravenous, intranasal, and oral routes is still possible,” the statement continued.
Studies of the effectiveness of its abuse resistance will continue after the drug’s release in the United States in early 2015. Purdue said it expects to launch Hysingla ER in dosages of 20 mg, 30 mg, 40 mg, 60 mg, 80 mg, 100 mg and 120 mg to be taken once every 24 hours.
After more than a decade of highly publicized abuse, addictions, overdose deaths and lawsuits, the company’s controversial extended-release oxycodone painkiller, OxyContin, was reformulated in 2010 using a similar abuse-deterrent system. Purdue claims that evidence shows the change in formulation has led to significantly less abuse.
Meanwhile, the FDA has had to face a firestorm of protests and criticism from both the medical community and the public since it approved Zohydro ER more than a year ago. More than 40 consumer protection, addiction specialist and citizen health care groups across the country have been urging that the FDA reverse its approval of the drug.
Zohydro ER, from drug-maker Zogenix, is also an all-hydrocodone extended-release painkiller like Purdue’s new Hysingla ER. But Zohydro ER has no built-in abuse-resistance at all, which critics insist makes Zohydro ER a massive risk for overdose injuries and deaths among opioid addicts across the country, just as OxyContin was before it was reformulated with abuse resistance.
In spite of the criticism, and even after its own expert medical safety panel gave the drug a firm thumbs down because of the drug’s obvious potential for abuse, the FDA’s hierarchy found some reason somewhere to approve it.
On the business side of things, Purdue’s Hysingla ER certainly will be a potent and potentially devastating commercial challenge to Zogenix’s much-maligned Zohydro ER. We can’t imagine doctors prescribing Zohydro ER with the safer Hysingla ER on the market. In response, Zogenix recently stated that the company is already hard at work to come up with its own abuse-resistant technology, and that it will reformulate Zohydro as soon as it has it perfected.
Here at Novus, we work with many patients who were addicted or made dependent “accidentally”, for want of a better term, while taking legitimate opioid painkiller prescriptions.
Opioids are prescribed for a wide range of ailments, from post-surgical pain to arthritis and even migraines.
But prescription opioid deaths have quadrupled since 1990 to nearly 17,000 a year, and the whole field of pain management is under a lot of pressure to re-evaluate its practices. While some experts argue that opioids should only be used for the most severe cases, such as cancer pain or end-of-life care, others maintain that less severe, short term pain management still requires opioids.
While the FDA continues to receive public pressure to take more effective action, the national epidemic of prescription opioid abuse continues. And here at Novus we continue to deal with it using the most innovative and effective medical detox available.
If you or anyone you care about is having a problem with prescription opioid painkillers or medications of any kind, don’t hesitate to call Novus. We’re always here to help, and will do our best to answer all your questions about prescription drug detox.
According to a 2011 White House study, nearly one out of every five driver fatalities in 2009 – 18 percent to be exact – involved “drugged driving,” the term that describes the growing epidemic of drug-impaired driving, similar to “drunk driving” for alcohol impairment. The latest figures show a rise from just 13 percent back in 2005.
Not all drivers killed in traffic accidents are tested for drugs. In fact, the average is only around 60 percent of them. But among drivers who were tested, 33 percent tested positive for drugs in 2009, while only 28 percent tested positive in 2005.
This rising trend of drugged driving fatalities is causing even more concern than you might expect, because in that same period, 2005 to 2009, the total number of all driver fatalities dropped significantly – from 27,491 in 2009 to 21,798 in 2009. Yet the percentage of drugged driver fatalities rose 5 percent.
These findings are described in Drug Testing and Drug-Involved Driving of Fatally Injured Drivers in the United States: 2005-2009, a report from the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP). It was based on figures from a National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) Fatality Analysis survey.
We’re just talking about drugs here, not alcohol. We already know from other studies that alcohol claims one-third of all driver fatalities. Alcohol was also involved in combination with drugs in some of this study’s findings. But drugs – stimulants, depressants and psych drugs – were the main focus of the study.
The study includes reams of information of lesser interest to most of us, such as comparing males to females (not much difference) or specific findings for counties. We’re more concerned with the big national picture. And it isn’t a pretty one.
The depressing reality is that 21,978 Americans were killed in vehicle accidents in 2009 (latest available figures), and nearly a fifth of them – 3,952 – were killed while driving under the influence of drugs.
By way of comparison, that’s more than three times as many military fatalities in the more than 10 years of Iraq and Afghanistan wars.
Looking at it another way, drugged driving is killing more than 10 drivers every single day of the year. And when you add in the alcohol-related driver fatalities, the total is much higher.
And that’s only driver fatalities. Thousands more deaths occur among passengers in both the drug- and alcohol-impaired drivers’ cars; there are thousands more victims in the cars crashed into by impaired drivers; and hundreds of innocent pedestrians and cyclists that are also struck and killed by impaired drivers.
We also have to consider the countless thousands of injuries, from weeks or months of pain and misery to a lifetime of permanent disability. There are far more injuries than deaths, resulting in incalculable health care costs.
Now, when you add to the health costs the legal, law enforcement, loss of work and family costs, the financial impact on society is truly immeasurable. Estimates place the cost of drugged and drunk driving in the billions of dollars a year.
You can’t put a dollar value on the irreconcilable emotional losses among families, friends and coworkers of the dead and injured. But these are even more costly, in human terms, than the losses of dollars and cents.
When you consider that all these thousands and thousands of deaths were utterly needless and avoidable, the scope of this national tragedy is magnified almost beyond belief. All it would take, to save every one of these lives, is for anyone using drugs or alcohol to simply refuse to climb behind the wheel.
Just that one, single, simple decision would save thousands lives and heartbreaks every year.
What kind of people are we, that we would risk not just our own lives, but carelessly risk the lives of our fellow citizens – men, women, children and infants – by driving while on drugs or alcohol?
Why don’t we find ways to make our educational system really teach kids that reach middle and high school to not start using drugs and alcohol, let alone to drive a car while doing so?
At the bottom of it all, what kind of examples are we as parents setting for our kids? As parents, we are the product of the same educational system that has failed to get that essential message across. We clearly need to make some changes in our thinking. And our local, state and national policies need to be changed to ensure better educational results. No one wants this carnage on our streets and highways to continue.
Here at Novus, our patients come from all walks of life, but they have one thing in common – they’ve made that all-important, life-affirming decision to become free of drugs and alcohol. Part of that decision is always a clear look at the negative effects of substance abuse, and a resolve to never let it happen again.
If you or someone you know has a problem with drugs or alcohol, don’t hesitate to pick up your phone and call Novus. We’ll not only help you find the right solution, we’ll both be contributing in our small way to make our roadways safer.
This Thanksgiving, we at Novus want to thank you for being part of the dedicated movement of people working to ease the sufferings of others and to save the lives of those impacted by addiction and dependence, making it possible for them to return to their loved ones as healthy and whole once again.
You yourself are a blessing and we are thankful you are there.
In spite of the fact that drugs are tearing at the fabric of our communities like never before, it’s unusual when ordinary citizens take part in a public campaign to offer positive, helpful ideas to deal with it.
In fact, we usually hear a lot of negativity, blame and finger-pointing rather than suggestions that might actually do some good.
So we were delighted recently when the good citizens of Bangor, Maine and surrounding communities came forward with their own ideas about how those suffering addiction might be better served.
It all started when the Bangor Daily News posted a terrifically inspiring video of interviews with local people who have overcome their addictions.
“Over the following week or so,” reporter Erin Rhoda said, “we were inundated with responses from viewers. In total, more than 50 people wanted to tell us how they think Maine can better help those experiencing addiction. They also shared how addiction has touched their lives.”
The video that triggered the exchange was far from typical in the news media of most cities today. We’re usually exposed to tirades from angry citizens or scary lectures from politicians, which seldom lead to anything positive.
Here are a few quotes from Ms. Rhoda’s remarkable story about the touching responses from local readers:
- Addiction “brought me to my knees,” one person wrote to us.
- When one woman’s son started drinking, she said, “The chaos, havoc, fear, sadness and anguish it brought to our family was so heart wrenching; to see him suffer was almost more than we could take.”
- Another woman described how the hardest task, once she got sober, was learning to love herself again.
- We heard from someone whose relative became addicted to heroin, lost medical coverage, became homeless and lost her children. “We don’t know from day to day if she is even alive,” this person wrote.
- Another person gave the view from the other side: “[Addiction] about killed me and made my whole family sick as well. The not knowing if I was still alive crushed them.”
- One person wrote that addiction is “everywhere I go, whether I see it or not.”
- Many people gave us hope. One wrote, “If I can change, anyone can, with determination and support. They have to want it, though. No one can want it for them.”
- Another wrote, “Thankfully, after a long process of trial and error, my son found the help he needed. He has now completed his college degree and is working in his field.”
The paper asked readers to suggest ways that Maine can improve its help for those suffering from addiction. Most answers were concerned with better access to health care and long-term treatment facilities, and the need for expanded educational programs to “reduce the stigma that makes it so difficult for someone to seek help,” Ms. Rhoda wrote.
Here is a sampling of the responses from the public published in the Bangor Daily News:
- Continue to educate the community about addiction and what it does to a person. Stop blaming the person.
- It is such a multifaceted issue, and you need multiple strategies to address it. We need to lift people up, which could be as simple as listening or doing healthy activities, but it needs to be addressed as a community.
- Spreading knowledge and information about the disease of addiction and its impacts on not just the people around the addict/alcoholic but the person suffering firsthand.
- Be open minded.
- A concerted effort is needed to de-stigmatize drug addiction. Employers need to be encouraged to give people a shot at employment despite a past criminal record that was related to their addiction.
- Be more understanding, become better educated about addiction, so there aren’t so many judgments.
- We need more support groups available at all hours.
- Educate people to lock up all medications, including over-the-counter medications and medical marijuana. The state should have a media campaign about this. Keep drugs out of the reach of others.
- Treat people as sick, not as criminals.
- Know it is only to be expected that humans will experience some backsliding along the road to freedom from street drugs, just as they do when quitting cigarettes, alcohol or fattening foods.
- Know there is life after addiction, that the user you see on the street can overcome the addiction and be an asset to society.
- Know that, sometimes, just because a doctor gives pills doesn’t mean they are safer.
- Stop the war on people who are abusing drugs.
- More help paying for detox and rehabilitation services.
- There are a lot of things that can affect those suffering from addiction. The main question is: Are we willing to spend the money to create feasible rehabilitation programs and facilities to help those who are addicted?
- Financial support for longer term rehabs. For anyone not on MaineCare, these rehabs are not possible. No one can miss months of work and still have a job. Yet these safe environments — where people can focus only on getting clean — are very much needed at the beginning of recovery. It is not easy or fun to give up the drug of choice. It’s unimaginable at first. Try doing it working full time. Some can, but most will fail.
- Courts should try and force rehab or treatment as often as possible for drug-related crimes, at least those that are non-violent. Sometimes your first glimpse of recovery needs to be forced. But attend enough meetings, forced or otherwise, and it will stick with you.
- Open up more long-term rehabs that don’t have replacement therapy as their protocol.
- Provide real therapy and counseling along with methadone treatment. The methadone clinics aren’t doing enough of it.
- Provide more rehabs that connect with each other and help lessen the gap between hitting bottom and getting help.
- Make treatment more widely available and accessible, especially to those without insurance. Provide prevention and education services at a very young age, through schools and the community, and educate parents, not just kids.
Novus Medical Detox Clinic is a firm supporter of any public efforts to de-stigmatize substance dependence and addiction. We congratulate the Bangor Daily News. And we encourage anyone suffering from a problem with drugs or alcohol to call us any time to get their questions answered about detox and drug treatment. We’re always here to help.
Fetal alcohol spectrum disorders may affect up to 5 percent of U.S. children
There is a new report out this month that suggests that as many as one in 20 U.S. children may have health or behavioral problems related to alcohol exposure before birth. Especially these days, when “everyone knows” not to drink during pregnancy, the numbers are higher than anyone expected.
“Knowing not to drink during pregnancy and not doing so are two different things,” especially before a woman knows she is pregnant, said lead researcher Philip May, a professor of public health at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.
Findings from the study were reported online Oct. 27 and in the November print issue of Pediatrics.
Fetal Alcohol Syndrome is at the most severe end of the spectrum of conditions resulting from drinking mothers. These conditions include abnormal facial features, structural brain abnormalities, growth problems and behavioral issues. Children on the milder end of conditions resulting from pre-natal alcohol use still suffer from things like impairment in the ability to complete tasks required to do well in school or other behavioral issues.
Knowing this, why would any pregnant woman take even one drink?
Dr. Lana Popova, a senior scientist at the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health and an assistant professor of epidemiology and of social work at the University of Toronto says, “There is no safe amount of alcohol or safe time to drink during pregnancy, or when planning on becoming pregnant. If a woman is unaware of her pregnancy, for whatever reason, she should discontinue drinking immediately upon pregnancy recognition.”
The study also found other alcohol factors that contribute to the potential severity of problems children might have. The longer it took a mother to learn she was pregnant, how frequently she drank three months before pregnancy, and the more alcohol the child’s father drank, the more likely it was that the child would have negative effects, were part of the findings.
Dr. Popova also cites two contributing factors to these unexpected percentages: a high number of unplanned pregnancies and a need to improve access to effective substance abuse treatment programs for women of childbearing age.
Over the years, we have always regularly received phone calls from pregnant women and it is our heartbreak that we can not help an already pregnant woman detox off of alcohol. So we work very hard to get the word out to women to please, please confront and handle alcohol problems before risking getting pregnant.
As Dr. Janet Williams, a professor of pediatrics at the University of Texas Health Science Center in San Antonio observed: “Alcohol is a neurotoxin, and alcohol exposure is the leading preventable cause of birth defects and intellectual and neuro-developmental disabilities. So why is it worth experimenting with your child?”
When it comes to avoiding overdose, or dealing with an overdose when it happens, most prescription painkiller users and abusers are a lot less ‘savvy’ than street heroin addicts.
This single fact – ignorance of how to avoid and treat overdose – is behind the skyrocketing numbers of deaths among young prescription painkiller abusers across the country, says a new study published in a recent issue of the International Journal of Drug Policy.
In part, says the study, it’s a failing of federal and state drug policies to ensure that the prescription painkiller abuse population – mostly white, middle-class teens and young adults – has been adequately informed about the risks of painkiller overdose, and the availability of medications like naloxone that can halt and reverse an overdose if administered in time.
Heroin addicts from Texas to Alaska and California to Maine all know about the drug naloxone, and many carry small applicators of the drug to be used on themselves or companions in the event of an overdose. Many police and first responders also carry naloxone for just that same reason, and it’s used in every emergency department in the country.
But among a large population of prescription painkiller users in New York City, the study found a woeful lack of knowledge not just about naloxone, but about overdose in general – what it is, and what to do about it.
“What we found is that when it comes to how to handle an overdose, prescription opioid users who weren’t using drugs for official medical reasons were less savvy than, say, more traditional heroin-using populations,” said study author David Frank, a doctoral candidate in the department of sociology at the CUNY Graduate Center in New York City. “In fact, they tend to have a pretty severe lack of knowledge and a lot of confusion about it, despite the fact that most have experienced overdoses within their drug-using network.”
And it was even worse. The study found prescription drug abusers basking in the false idea that because they were taking prescription drugs – clean, made in a lab, known amount of active ingredient – they were somehow protected from the dangers of overdose experienced by the street heroin crowd.
And even worse than that, many didn’t even consider themselves “addicts.” Even though they were definitely addicted, they had some idea that because it wasn’t to street drugs, they weren’t really addicts in the strict sense of the word.
“We found that prescription opioid [users] make a big distinction between themselves and heroin users,” Frank said. “Opioid users tend to be whiter, younger and come from a higher socioeconomic background. And even though opiates and heroin are pharmacologically similar, work by the same mechanism and can both cause an overdose, even daily opioid users seem to think that simply because they’re taking a doctor-prescribed medicine they’re not doing a dangerous drug.”
These dangerous ideas and attitudes about drug abuse, and the lack of knowledge about how to respond to overdose, need to be addressed by medical and legal authorities at all levels, the study said.
Prescription drugs vs street drugs
As far as overdose and death goes, there is zero chemical difference between prescription opioid painkillers like hydrocodone (Vicodin, Lortab, Norco, etc.) and oxycodone (Percocet, Percodan, OxyContin, etc.) and the heroin people cop on street corners. Both the prescription drugs and the street drugs are dangerous for the same exact reason: they can depress the central nervous system, slow down and eventually stop the body from breathing and finally kill you. This is the classic opioid overdose – think Corey Monteith, Phillip Seymour Hoffman and dozens of other celebs in just the past decade.
Unlike prescription opioid users, street heroin users face an added risk – not knowing for sure how pure any new batch of heroin is. They have to shoot up carefully until they determine how strong it is so they can avoid an overdose. And they have to make sure the fillers added to ‘stretch’ the heroin aren’t too toxic. And not only that, they have to make sure the ‘heroin’ they’ve just copped is actually heroin, and not something else like fentanyl, a prescription opioid painkiller sometimes used in place of heroin, which can create different effects.
Prescription painkiller abusers, on the other hand, know exactly what they’re getting. The pill they are taking was made in a lab to exacting specifications – for example, if the Vicodin tablets are marked for 150 mg of hydrocodone, that’s exactly what’s in each pill. And, it’s pure – no toxic filler surprises.
So yes, the prescription opioid painkiller use has a slight advantage in purity and predictability. But the flip side, says the study – ignorance about overdoses and a blind spot about addiction – is the problem here.
The bottom line – what you can do
Here’s the bottom line for anyone who’s got a problem with opioids – especially prescription painkillers:
PRESCRIPTION PAINKILLERS ARE JUST AS DANGEROUS AS STREET DRUGS.
Don’t think, even for a second, that because it’s a prescription drug it isn’t as risky, as hazardous, or as treacherous as any heroin or fentanyl on the street.
Call us here at Novus and get the help you need. We’re always here to help, and we are the opioid detox specialists with the most modern, cutting-edge medically supervised treatment in the country.
Categories: Drug Overdose
When it comes to the virulent, deadly ebola epidemic that’s dominating the news these days, we’re just as nervous as everyone else. No vaccine, no cure, and anywhere from 50 to 90 percent fatality rates.
We’re glad the White House is taking the ebola threat seriously by creating a task force to help head off an ebola epidemic getting a foothold here in America. President Obama has hand-picked Ron Klain, the former chief of staff to Vice Presidents Joe Biden and Al Gore, to “coordinate the national response to the deadly virus.”
But because of what we do – help people overcome drug and alcohol dependence – we know how widespread and deadly addiction has become in America. By anyone’s definition it’s an epidemic. And we can’t help thinking that more could and should be done to deal with it too.
It may upset some people for us to say this, and it certainly wouldn’t be popular coming from any politicians or health officials these days, but statistically, the death count from the current and dreaded ebola epidemic in West Africa is actually trivial compared to the death count from drug and alcohol abuse, both here and around the world.
The hard and true facts are this: More Americans die every month from drug and alcohol related mishaps than have died from the current, dreaded ebola virus epidemic sweeping West Africa. They’ve been dying here in the US at that rate for decades. And it’s not really getting any better.
Here are some numbers to compare – and they’re rather shocking:
EBOLA (current outbreak, as of mid-October 2014)
- Deaths in Africa: 4,500 (estimated)
- Deaths in US: 2 (confirmed)
DRUGS AND ALCOHOL (for 2010, latest figures available)
- Alcohol-related deaths in US: 25,692
- Drug overdose deaths in US (not including alcohol): 38,329
- Pharmaceutical drugs: 22,134
- Pharmaceutical opioid analgesics: 16,651
- Illicit drug use: 17,000 (may include some of above events)
- World-wide drug related mortality (from UN): 247,000
Clearly, with drugs and alcohol addiction and deaths, we are dealing with an epidemic of such colossal proportions, one that has been going on for so long, that most people today just don’t “get it.” It’s too big, it’s been around too long, it’s too familiar – whatever – most people have become kind of numb to the whole thing.
Unfortunately, that includes many lawmakers, the people we elect to guide us and protect us, and allocate sufficient resources to head off dangerous threats to public health. And of course, that has to include the drug and alcohol epidemic that is claiming over 75,000 American lives every year.
When it comes to choosing its victims indiscriminately, drug and alcohol addiction isn’t too much different from most viruses including ebola. It strikes people of all ages in all walks of life, and like a virus, it spreads like a contagion – especially among our young people.
Yes, ebola (haemorrhagic fever) is a terrifying disease. It’s fatal in an average of 75 percent of cases. It spreads very quickly and there’s no effective cure or preventive vaccine. So we strongly support all necessary resources to prevent an actual ebola epidemic here at home.
And let’s make this perfectly clear: When we compare the figures for drug and alcohol fatalities to the ebola epidemic, we certainly aren’t suggesting that we shouldn’t be concerned about the ebola threat. Fact is, we’re just as worried as you are that more cases might pop up here in the US before we finally knock it out. And that’s plenty scary indeed.
What we are saying, however, is that the ebola epidemic threat is a big reminder of a deadly epidemic already here in America, and it needs more attention and more resources to deal with it. We’re saying that our lawmakers and public health officials should step back for a minute and take a look at what we consider the Number One public health epidemic in this country – drug and alcohol addiction.
There have been 2 deaths in the US from ebola. Yet in that same two or three weeks that it took those two very unfortunate people to succumb to ebola, roughly 4,300 Americans died from drug and alcohol related incidents – overdoses, accidents, murders, suicides – the list goes on.
And sadly, tragically, most of them died needlessly, because timely and effective intervention saves lives threatened by addiction. We could have saved them if the right resources – proven workable resources like medical, counseling, legal – had been available and active at the right time.
When you add to these needless deaths the enormous financial, emotional, familial and societal costs, the need for more and better prevention and treatment resources becomes even more evident.
Here at Novus, we certainly aren’t political activists – anything but. We’re a team of highly trained medical detox specialists who help people break free from dependence on drugs and alcohol. And we do that by using the safest, most comfortable and most modern medically-supervised detox protocols available anywhere. The only ‘movement’ we’re involved in is our own dedicated campaign to help set our patients free. But we always encourage friends and patients to do whatever they can to help spread the word – detox and treatment before it’s too late.
If you or someone you care about is struggling with drug or alcohol dependence, don’t hesitate to call Novus and get all your questions answered about drug and alcohol detox. We’re always here to help.
For example, says Carl Hart, Ph.D., crack cocaine does not create addiction in someone the very first time they use it. Pure crack cocaine and powdered cocaine are chemically identical, and create identical effects on users if the amounts and delivery methods are the same.
In fact, he says, the same is true for any substance – no drug causes addiction the first time it’s used. Even if someone wants to use it immediately a second time, it doesn’t mean they are addicted, he said.
Speaking at a recent TED Talk, Hart said that 80 to 90 percent of drug users never become addicted at all – including those who try cocaine. He reminded the audience that our last three presidents – Obama, Bush and Clinton – all used drugs when they were younger. “Their drug use did not result in an inevitable downward spiral leading to debauchery and addiction,” Hart said. “And the experience of these men is the rule, not the exception.”
From a societal perspective, Hart said he has had to learn that drugs and drug addiction are not the cause of crime, violence and gang activity in our inner cities. Raised in a minority, crime-ridden neighborhood of Miami, he was personally involved in drugs and petty crime as a youth. He was constantly told, and thoroughly believed, that drugs were at the source of all the ills in “the ‘hood”.
“I came from a community where drug use was prevalent,” Hart told the TED Talk audience. “I kept a gun in my car, I engaged in petty crime, I used and sold drugs. But I also stand before you today, emphasis on ‘also’, a professor at Columbia University, who studies drug addiction. And I know what some of you are wondering – ‘How in the world did you get from there to here?’”
Hart made it through high school, and credits his joining the Air Force with sparking his interest in higher education. He received a Bachelor of Science degree and a Master of Science degree from the University of Maryland, and earned his Ph.D. in Neuroscience from the University of Wyoming. Finding a solution to addiction became his mission. He says he chose neuroscience specifically so he could solve the addiction problems in his old neighborhood.
And after more than a decade of research, he has convinced himself and his co-workers that crime, violence and gangs are based on poverty and the lack of opportunities and positive choices. Crime and violence exist independently of drug abuse and addiction, he says.
Many common ideas about addiction are based on old animal research from the 1960s and 1970s, he said, which has not stood up to the test of time. For example, in old research, rodents in cages could access a lever that would give them a shot of cocaine. They immediately began self-administering the drug, and wouldn’t stop until they died. This was the “scientific” basis for everything known about cocaine abuse.
Those rodents were never offered an alternative, he said. So Hart’s team ran experiments in which the rodents were also offered sweets and sexually active mates as well as the drugs. The results were fascinating. They no longer drugged themselves to death and chose the non-drug alternatives. They favored the sweets and the sexual partnerships more than the drugs.
Encouraged, Hart’s team began similar tests on human subjects. Hardened addicts who agreed to take part in controlled lab experiments were offered a free hit of their drug of choice or a small sum of money – $5 in the first round of experiments and $20 in a subsequent round.
The results were surprising, to say the least. More than half of the participants chose the money over the drugs. The experiments showed over and over again that even a majority of hardened coke and meth addicts, not beginners by a long shot, were more interested in an alternative that meant more to them than just getting stoned again.
Modern science and better, more creative research has taught Hart that the drug addiction problems in America will never be improved unless new ideas are brought to the table. Hart proposed three basic steps to begin reducing drug addiction and crime in a meaningful way.
The first is ensuring that employment and better education are available to all. It will require a huge shift in drug policy, but “important, attractive and meaningful ‘reinforcers’ as alternatives to drug use and abuse” are essential, Hart said.
“My research shows that attractive alternatives can decrease drug use,” he said. “Providing viable economic opportunity will go a long way in decreasing drug abuse.”
The second is decriminalization of drug possession – treating it like a traffic violation, Hart said. Hart pointed to other countries, such as Portugal and the Czech Republic, where drug addiction and crime have been significantly reduced through these methods.
“Significant portions of their society are not stigmatized, marginalized and unfairly incarcerated. If our goal in the U.S. is to have a legal system that treats everyone fairly, one that’s just…we must decriminalize drug possession” and change “selectively enforced” drug laws. For example, racial profiling is rampant in drug enforcement here in the U.S., where 80 percent of cocaine users are white, but 80 percent of people in prison for cocaine possession are black.
“Third, I believe science should be driving our drug policy and drug education – even if it makes you and me uncomfortable. First we should be truthful about it.” He pointed to the massive media coverage of the recent rise in heroin abuse and overdose deaths in the country. The actual truth is that 75 percent of so-called heroin overdose deaths involved other sedative drugs, either alcohol or benzodiazapines.
“Rather than just vilifying heroin, the message should be, ‘If you’re going to use heroin, don’t combine it with another sedative!’”
People will always use drugs, Hart says. They always have used drugs. We must learn to live with this fact. Drugs will never be entirely eradicated no matter what approach is taken, and to think otherwise is naïve. Hart said that we already take this approach with other dangerous activities, such as sex, alcohol and even driving.
“I’ve come a long way since the mean streets of Miami, and even a longer way since the starry-eyed young man who wanted to eradicate drugs as the best way to deal with the drug problem. Today I no longer want to eradicate or eliminate drugs from our society. It would be naïve to think so.”
He added that he wants to “keep safe” the countless recreational drug users, the vast majority of drug users, who don’t have an addiction problem and who need the truth about drugs and who need real justice.
Hart closed his talk by saying he is dedicated to disseminating the real science about drugs and addiction to the public and he asked the audience to join him in these efforts. “What I know now is that drugs are not the problem. The real problems are poverty, unemployment, selective drug law enforcement, ignorance and the dismissal of science surrounding these drugs.”
Hart’s book, High Price: A Neuroscientist’s Journey of Self Discovery That Challenges Everything You Know About Drugs and Society, was published by Harper in June 2013. Called a “harrowing and inspiring memoir”, it won a PEN/E. O. Wilson Literary Science Writing Award.
At Novus, we also believe that ‘the drug problem’ can best be helped by applying proven advances in science and by sensible adjustments of social policies when needed. Here at Novus, we are dedicated to helping reverse the effects of addiction by using the most modern medical detox protocols available. We know what our role is, and we encourage anyone with a drug problem of any kind to call us any time. We are always here to help.
Common anxiety drugs such as Xanax, Valium, Ativan and Klonopin, and related insomnia drugs such as Ambien, Lunesta and Sonata, increase the chance of Alzheimer’s disease and related dementias, says a new report from Canadian and French researchers.
The study, just published in the British Medical Journal, reports that using benzodiazepine anxiety drugs and the strongly similar “nonbenzodiazepine” insomnia drugs, often called “z-drugs”, is not only linked to higher rates of Alzheimer’s, but the longer you take it the greater the chances are of suffering from dementia.
Dr. Antoine Pariente, of the University of Bordeaux, France, a co-author of the study, told Paula Span of the New York Times that “the more the cumulative days of use, the higher the risk of later being diagnosed with dementia.”
The research also showed that the link between benzos and dementia is even stronger when it involves the longer-acting forms of the drug, like Valium, than the types of benzos that are eliminated from the body more quickly, such as Ativan and Xanax.
The study involved 1,800 older people diagnosed with Alzheimer’s in Quebec and compared them with nearly 7,200 control subjects. There was an overall 51 percent higher risk of Alzheimer’s for those who had taken benzodiazepines.
The risk of dementia rose 32 percent for older patients who took daily doses for 91 to 180 days, compared to those who took none. For those who took daily doses for more than 180 days, the risk was 84 percent higher, the Times reported. And, Dr. Pariente said, it didn’t matter whether the 180 doses were taken daily over six months, or spread out over five years, the results were the same.
According to the Times’ Paula Span, a seasoned reporter with extensive experience reporting on disease and treatment of the elderly, the study by researchers at the University of Bordeaux and University of Montreal was “designed with particular care” to ensure that statistical and procedural objections that could be expected for such a study were carefully considered and answered, and that their findings were still valid.
These drugs cause Alzheimer’s, the study says, and the more you take them, and the longer you take them, the greater the risk.
What are benzodiazepines?
Benzodiazepines (Xanax, Valium etc.) and the “non-benzodiazapine hypnotics” such as Ambien and Lunesta, nicknamed the “z-drugs” because they’re for sleep, work very much the same way in the brain. In fact, they’re so similar that some scientists don’t bother to distinguish between the two and just call them all “benzodiazepines.”
This broad class of drugs is used for one or more of their anxiolytic (anti-anxiety), sedative, hypnotic (sleep-inducing), anticonvulsant and muscle relaxant properties, while others are used to cause amnesia and even general dissociation – a detachment from physical and emotional experience.
The reasons the researchers wanted to do this study are:
- Dementia is currently the main cause of dependency in older people and a major public health concern affecting about 36 million people worldwide.
- Because of population growth, this number is expected to double every 20 years and to reach 115 million in 2050, resulting in tragic human consequences and social costs.
- Since the cause is unknown and there are no effective treatments, the search for the cause and for effective treatment is a high priority.
- Several studies have already shown that benzodiazepines could be one of the causes.
- This class of drugs is mainly used to treat anxiety or insomnia and their use among elderly patients is consistently high in developed countries – as high 43 percent.
- International guidelines recommend short term use of benzodiazepines, mainly because of withdrawal symptoms, but these guidelines are not always followed.
- Finally, although the long term effectiveness of benzos remains unproven for insomnia and is questionable for anxiety, their use is “predominantly chronic” in older people.
As we can see, these drugs have a huge effect on the functioning of the human mind and body. Now they’re being shown to have seriously negative long-term effects. The study authors say that “unwarranted long term use of these drugs should be considered as a public health concern.”
A public health concern? That’s quite a limb for these scientists to climb out on. But they know that, and they’re putting their reputations on the line because of the seriousness of their findings.
It’s only a matter of time until the drug companies involved come calling on the medical journals with other studies aimed at nullifying the critical study. Studies such as this one not only crash sales – almost every one of these brand-name benzos is a billion-dollar money-maker – they usually lead to massively expensive class action lawsuits.
Lawsuits over negative drug side effects have become a common occurrence in America and to some extent overseas. Sometimes the problems arise because most drugs are tested to learn what a “safe” dose is, but the “safe” dose isn’t tested over a long-enough period of time to reveal the dangers. And that seems to be the case with the benzodiazepines.
Here at Novus, we’ve helped a lot of people deal with benzodiazapine dependence. But this new information adds another dimension to the motivation for getting off benzos for good.
If you have a problem with benzodiazapine dependence, or know someone who does, please call Novus today. We can help, it’s what we do.
If you’re taking a prescription opioid painkiller or using heroin or any other illicit opioid, you might want to think twice before also taking a benzodiazapine tranquilizer like Xanax or Valium along with your opioid.
Combining benzodiazapines with opioids has become more and more popular with opioid users in recent years. Day after day we read in the news about drug busts, emergency hospital admissions and overdose deaths in which opioids and benzos have been combined. Oxycodone or hydrocodone with Xanax seems to be a very popular mix.
It’s been well known for years that combining opioids with benzos is a dicey idea because it increases the risk of suppressing the central nervous system to dangerously low levels.
But a new study from the Centers For Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) not only confirms that the practice is increasing, it clearly shows that opioid-benzodiazapine combinations increase the risk of death – and by a fairly wide margin.
Benzodiazepines were involved in nearly a third – 31 percent – of all prescription opioid painkiller deaths in 2011, and only 13 percent in 1999. You can see the significant increase of opioids-plus-benzodiazapine deaths on the green line in the graph.
‘Death rate’ – what it means and why it’s an important statistic
Statistics people always measure what’s called the ‘death rate’ – the number of people dying from some cause from year to year based on the changing US population. They do this to see if the numbers are getting worse or getting better. It’s different from just the total number of people dying, which could easily be increasing just because the population is increasing.
The new CDC study compared how many Americans died from prescription painkillers per 100,000 population each year from 1999 to 2011. The results were stunning. The death rate quadrupled, from 1.4 deaths per 100,000 population, to 5.4 per 100,000 population. The death rate slowed a little bit after 2006, which is good news. But it still increased year over year.
What was even more disturbing, however, was the increase in the death rate from mixing benzos with opioids. This death rate nearly tripled from 1999 to 2011, while the death rate from opioids alone remained the same (number of deaths per 100,000 people).
In other words, not only is the total number of Americans dying from prescription painkillers and benzos higher than ever before, the rate of deaths from that cause is soaring.
Mixing benzos with prescription opioid painkillers is not only a soaring statistic, it clearly poses an additional threat to drug users and abusers who aren’t getting the message, who aren’t paying attention to what’s happening around them.
Keep in mind that victims include lots of “weekend” or occasional users and abusers – not just hard-core addicts.
Over 30 Americans die needlessly every day of the year – nearly 12,000 in 2011 alone – by overdosing on what are called ‘natural and semi-synthetic opioid analgesics’. These include such opioid painkillers as hydrocodone, oxycodone, morphine, methadone, codeine and others. This tragic statistic is quadruple the 2,700 deaths in 1999.
So what’s the bottom line for all these numbers?
To sum it all up, the total number of deaths from use and abuse of prescription drugs has quadrupled since 1999, while opioids combined with benzos total deaths has also quadrupled.
Also, the death rate has tripled for opioid-benzos combined, while it remained the same for opioids alone. That tells us that the combination is a definite and serious risk and should be avoided.
Here at Novus, we believe even one death is too many. That’s why we’re dedicated to helping our patients climb off the slippery slope of dependence and addiction and get started on a smooth new road to recovery – a life free from substance use and abuse, forever.
We are experts at detoxifying our patients from multiple drugs, too. If you or someone you care about is in trouble with prescription drugs, either alone or in combination such as opioids and benzodiazapines, don’t hesitate to give us a call. We are here to help, and we can help.